The scope of the Web today is hard to fathom. The total number of Web pages, including those that are dynamically created upon request and document files available through links, exceeds 600 billion. That’s 100 pages per person alive.
How could we create so much, so fast, so well? In fewer than 4,000 days, we have encoded half a trillion versions of our collective story and put them in front of 1 billion people, or one-sixth of the world’s population. That remarkable achievement was not in anyone’s 10-year plan.
The accretion of tiny marvels can numb us to the arrival of the stupendous. Today, at any Net terminal, you can get: an amazing variety of music and video, an evolving encyclopedia, weather forecasts, help wanted ads, satellite images of anyplace on Earth, up-to-the-minute news from around the globe, tax forms, TV guides, road maps with driving directions, real-time stock quotes, telephone numbers, real estate listings with virtual walk-throughs, pictures of just about anything, sports scores, places to buy almost anything, records of political contributions, library catalogs, appliance manuals, live traffic reports, archives to major newspapers – all wrapped up in an interactive index that really works.
This view is spookily godlike. You can switch your gaze of a spot in the world from map to satellite to 3-D just by clicking. Recall the past? It’s there. Or listen to the daily complaints and travails of almost anyone who blogs (and doesn’t everyone?). I doubt angels have a better view of humanity.
Why aren’t we more amazed by this fullness? Kings of old would have gone to war to win such abilities. Only small children would have dreamed such a magic window could be real. I have reviewed the expectations of waking adults and wise experts, and I can affirm that this comprehensive wealth of material, available on demand and free of charge, was not in anyone’s scenario. Ten years ago, anyone silly enough to trumpet the above list as a vision of the near future would have been confronted by the evidence: There wasn’t enough money in all the investment firms in the entire world to fund such a cornucopia. The success of the Web at this scale was impossible.
But if we have learned anything in the past decade, it is the plausibility of the impossible.
From a WIRED article a few years back; I must have missed it the first time around…
The other important thing to remember here is that not only was the “world wide web” not on some company’s 10-year plan, it was NOT the result of some government program* or the result of a group with an agenda. Ten or fifteen years into this experiment, it’s pretty safe to say that almost all factions and interest-groups are involved in some way or another.
And lest any of you think we’re peaking, I believe the pace of interconnectedness and communication is only going to increase. So many people want to paint a picture of our society as breaking apart (suicidal/homocidal loners, terrorists, etc), but I think we’re on the way to something altogether different.
* puh-leease don’t remind me that this was the result of ARPA/DARPA — the change in the Internet around 1995 demonstrates how clearly the goals have diverged from the government’s original plans once it was opened up to the free market